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Wild Tales
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by Jay Seaver

"Six times superb."
5 stars

There aren't a whole lot of movies like "Wild Tales" that get made - most anthologies are built around multiple filmmakers taking on a topic, and when it is the work of a single voice, there is usually something going on to tie them together into a single unit. It makes sense; people are more likely to judge the whole by the portion that disappointed them unless there is a reason to consider the good ones separately. Unless, that is, it's a movie where every segment is as universally excellent as what Damián Szifrón comes up with here.

The stories themselves are presented separately: A man and a woman meet on a plane, only to find out about a common element in their past. Another meeting occurs in a restaurant, with a waitress recognizing the man who destroyed her family. A driver insults the man he passes, only to have a flat tire a few kilometers later. Anger at a parking ticket upends a man's life. A hit-and-run driver's wealthy father hatches a scheme to keep his son out of jail. And, finally, a woman discovers her partner's infidelity at their wedding reception. No framing device, no common characters, and if any background element recurs, you will likely have to be looking for minutia to see it.

There's almost a theme of revenge running through the entire package, but Szifrón leaves that out of one story, keeping this from being "the revenge movie". Oh, it's there, and almost necessary - with each story getting roughly twenty minutes, it makes sense to start with something already in place that, if it doesn't kick things into action right away, doesn't have to smolder for very long or hide. Szifrón lays his cards on the table fairly quickly in every segment, and even once he's had the movie take a turn, he's more likely let things keep going in that direction with more detail rather than switch things up. It's a canny move; with five big shifts already built into the feature, anything more might just make things feel too random for the audience, or leave them trying to figure out what was happening in one story while the film has moved on to something else.

Part of the reason why this is able to work is that Szifr√≥n and his cast make sure that there are no purely innocent characters here. The closest is probably Julieta Zylberberg's waitress, and even if we see her mostly act out of panic and fear, there's clearly murder in her heart. She's not the only one giving a compact but terrific little performance, either, with the highest density to be found in "The Deal", where Oscar Martinez, Osmar N√ļ√Īez, and Germ√°n de Silva make perfect complements as the core of the film's largest ensemble. Dario Grandinetti is notable for making his opening-act airline passenger feel like a singular sort of snob even as the whole segment is shifting in tone to match. Perhaps the best is saved for last, though, with Erica Rivas as the bride who goes from timid to sort of monstrous; the easy way to play it would be tearful or aggressively enough to imply that Romina was really like this all along, but Rivas had her in a state of non-paralyzed shock that has the audience mostly in her corner but never sure whether that will still be the case in thirty seconds' time.

Szifrón varies the style up a bit between segments in ways that contrast a bit - the clean airplane of the first gives way to a rainy and run-down dinner in the second, for instance - but not so much that they look like separately-made shorts stitched together. In a way, his fondness for shots looking out of something, be it a windshield, a baggage compartment, or even an ATM keypad, help create that unity without overlap. It puts the audience inside each sorry, but without one common point of view that would force some sort of connection beyond things thrillingly spiraling out of control.

It's different sorts of thrills, with "Road to Hell" the segment that plays most like a suspense film, with a synthesizer-based score, a quicker cutting style that puts the viewer a little more on edge, and the sort of step-by-step peril that would make Steven Spielberg nod with approval. Even that one is tremendously funny, especially in its payoff, although the segments in the plane and at the wedding are probably the bits that capture Szifrón's dark but playful sense of humor: a slow ramp-up that takes a surprising turn, followed by many off-kilter elaborations. There are many, many big laughs here, and Szifrón is happy to use them as springboards rather than undercut them.

Other movies would do that, either sacrificing their barbs to make a dramatic point or pushing so far into cruelty that it stops being fun. "Wild Tales" does not have that problem, which is kind of amazing. It is incredibly difficult to hit the target six times in a row, let alone in a way that works well together as a single unit.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=26762&reviewer=371
originally posted: 03/10/15 10:19:15
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Cannes Film Festival For more in the 2014 Cannes Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 London Film Festival For more in the 2014 London Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Telluride Film Festival For more in the 2014 Telluride Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Vancouver Film Festival For more in the 2014 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 AFI Fest For more in the 2014 AFI Fest series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2015 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

8/10/15 sevaian Excellent --funny and nastty and cathartic 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  20-Feb-2015 (R)
  DVD: 16-Jun-2015

UK
  N/A

Australia
  20-Feb-2015
  DVD: 16-Jun-2015




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